Summertime. . . and the living is HOT!
It’s August in Oklahoma, and as we all have no doubt noticed, it is HOT. It was 91 degrees at 11 PM last night on our outside thermometer. Today Oklahoma City seems to be getting a bit of a break, thanks to that cold front that moved through early this AM. We won’t break 100 today, yee haw. It will “only” be 95 degrees or so.
I remember August in the 1960s in southwest Oklahoma where I grew up. One of the jobs I did on the farm was “chopping cotton”. . . although we weren’t actually chopping cotton, we were chopping the weeds out of the cotton. My dad paid me 25 cents an hour, and the rows were a half mile long. The “chopping cotton” terminology came from previous generations. With less data about seed viability, farmers planted their cotton really thick to make sure they got a good stand. Then, during the summer, the cotton would be thinned at the same time the weeds were chopped out. Thus, “chopping cotton”. Early on, we’d use a “go devil” cultivator to clean the weeds out of the young cotton, but later in the summer it was the old-fashioned way. We started early in the AM, and quit about 3 PM, as it just got too hot. Required equipment included a large straw hat, and big coolers of water with a small amount of apple cider vinegar added.
All of which is a rather round-a-bout way to getting to the point of expressing appreciation for our farmers and producers who don’t have the luxury of staying inside with the AC during this critical season on the farm. Just as they brave the freezing winds and ice storms of the winter, our farmers and ranchers continue to keep faith with their land and their animals and their production during the heat of the summer.
That’s why this month, and every month, we are able to buy and cook great tasting and super-nutritious Oklahoma foods for our families and all those we love. When you look at the products offered this month, it’s not always apparent what has gone into the availability of this product. So let’s all take just a moment and give a bit of reflection to the hard work that brings us our daily bread and say a word of “thanks” for all those involved in the production and distribution of our food..
I took some vacation days recently, and was personally avoiding the heat by watching some mindless TV while surfing the internet. The show on the tube was Las Vegas, which is kind of a cross between a soap opera and a crime drama. I was actually kind of drowsy and thinking about a nap, when suddenly I was jerked to awareness by the dialogue on the show. The manager of one of the restaurants at the casino was talking about going with “local and organic foods” for her restaurant! I thought, “Well, I guess we have finally arrived at the mainstream of the American conversation, if the soaps are talking about local foods.”
And there is a reason for this new popular awareness.
My breakfast today was the last of my eggs from last month’s coop order, scrambled, with some chopped walking onions from my garden, a sliced red jalapeno from my garden, and a sprinkling of dried garlic chives harvested earlier in the spring from my garden, some sausage from the coop, and sliced tomatoes on the side from my garden. I was cooking on the porch (we always cook outside all summer long, to minimize the heat build-up inside the house), and I reflected on the fact that there wasn’t a single restaurant in town that could serve me a breakfast like this today. Sure, some restaurants have a few local items on their menu, but this is the basic American breakfast – eggs and sausage – and the quality of this breakfast can only be found in my own home, and in the homes of other members of the coop or folks who shop at the farmers’ markets.
The high days of summer bring us the traditional summer veggies. I’m seeing cantaloupes, cucumbers, purple hulled peas, okra micro-greens, lambs quarters, garlic (including elephant garlic, a rare treat), mushrooms, hot peppers, sweet peppers, summer squash, tomatoes. It looks to me like peppers are in particularly plentiful supply, and well they should be, because I think that hot peppers (well, all the peppers) are one of God’s true gifts to the human race. They are high in nutrition, and are very versatile in cooking. You can add peppers to almost anything, including desserts like pies and cakes and breads. Now is the time to buy them in order to preserve them for eating later. You’ll find recipes below for my hot pepper salsa/sauce, and info about pickled peppers. Note that peppers can be frozen without any prep. I typically just pinch off the stem, and put them into a freezer container; they do not need to be blanched.
Another item in really good supply this month is cucumbers, and here again, now is the time to buy so you can pickle them for later, recipes are below, and remember, as long as the electricity grid is working (lol), you can make refrigerator pickles which are about as easy as can be. My problem with refrigerator pickles, however, is that they have to be in the refrigerator, I can’t hide them in closets and etc., so they get eaten REALLY quickly as my roommates see them and just eat them out of hand like a snack chip. Certainly they are better nutrition and more better bon appetitin’ tasting than any snack chip in the store, lol.
Nutritionists tell us that about half of your plate should be vegetables.
There are a lot of creative ways to use summer vegetables. One of my favorites is to saute sliced summer squash, chopped onions, and sliced peppers (hot and or sweet). I sprinkle this while cooking with some chopped fresh oregano and some chopped fresh parsley from the garden. I can (and have) eaten this five days in a row when summer squash are in season. I might throw a peeled and chopped peach in too just for variety during the peach season.
Turning to the meat and poultry departments of the coop, well, here again, we are blessed with an abundance. I’ve been in the meat aisles of stores like Whole Foods in other cities, and looked at price lists for free ranging meats elsewhere, and we don’t know just how good we have it here in Oklahoma thanks to the Oklahoma Food Cooperative. Yes, I know, it’s not the big box supermarket price. But it’s not mystery meat either. And our prices are typically better than they are elsewhere for free range meats and poultry.
Another day time crime drama I watched on my vacation day featured this line – “That hamburger may have DNA from a hundred different animals in it” – and that is what you get when you buy hamburger from the big box tores. Not to mention the little detail that the big box supermarkets get their meats from giant processing plants, and we’ve all heard the news about the various meat recalls. Contrast this with meats from our producers, processed at facilities inspected by the Oklahoma Dept of Agriculture. Did you know that no customer has ever gotten sick from a product processed at a state inspected plant in Oklahoma?
The key to managing your food budget and incorporating local meats is portion control. I’m feeding five these days, one of whom is 4 years old, and I take 1 pound of hamburger and make 8 patties out of it. Two 1/8 pound patties seem like more than one 1/4 pound patty. This, plus a mound of squash/peppers/onions, and some sliced tomatoes, and whole wheat bread, maybe some gravy, make a very fine and filling meal.
I take a pound of hamburger, and a pound of ground pork, plus some cooked bulgar, 1 egg, a good dash of ketchup, a quarter cup of peanut butter, and make a very fine meatloaf that ends up providing two meals for five – carefully portioned slices of meat loaf for one meal, with meatloaf left over for sandwiches the next day. It’s just a little more than $1/person/meal, which is the amount figured per person/meal on the food stamp program.
When it comes to pork chops and pork steaks, sure, I could sit down and eat six pork chops and couple of pork steaks, lol, but I find I am full with one pork chop, plus some dressing or rice, gravy, vegetables and sliced tomatoes.
Don’t forget the organ meats, liver in particular. Some people complain about the bland taste of liver, but not at my house. I marinate liver in a mixture of teriyaki sauce, hot peppers, onions, black pepper, and garlic. When I cook the liver, I put the peppers, garlic, and onion from the marinade into the skillet too. Here again, you can stretch your meat dollar by chopping the liver into smaller pieces after its cooked and mixing with cooked rice or bulgar, for the traditional New Orleans “Dirty Rice” dish.
Nutritionists tell us that about 1/4 of our plate should be the meat or protein.
We are, of course, socialized by the conventional food system to be gluttons – to favor quantity over quality, to ignore the externalized costs of our food choices, and to just do as the advertisements tell us to do. The local food market, however, opens a different way of thinking about our food choices. Better foods means that we care less about quantity and more about quality and taste. Not coincidentally, this means that we make healthier food choices. Healthier food choices mean we spend less at the doctor’s office.
And speaking of healthier food choices, we come to the final quarter of our plate – high quality, whole grains. You will find these choices in abundant supply each and every month from the Oklahoma Food Cooperative. You can buy flour, you can buy grain and grind it or “bulgarize” it yourself, or you can buy fine baked goods – breads, flat breads, rolls – or convenience mixes and frozen doughs. Fiber is essential for good nutrition, and whole grain products offer great nutrition and taste. I assure you – it is not too hot to bake. I use an electric roaster oven on my front porch. Alternatively, I make stove top breads, traditionally called “naan” in the Indian subcontinent. But even these are made on my front porch. . .
Don’t forget the importance of wheat to your family’s food storage program. Every household should store at least 200 pounds of grain per family member as an emergency reserve. That’s admittedly hard to think about buying in one large purchase, but one 25 lb bucket of grain/month slowly and steadily moves you towards more household food security. There are a hundred and one things that could happen in a heartbeat that would stop the flow of groceries through the agribizness food system. Don’t wait for a food crisis, which is surely coming, to stock up on food. Stock up now, while food is plentiful, so you have something to eat later, when maybe it won’t be so plentiful. (And buy a grain grinder while you’re at it.) 200 pounds sounds like a lot, but that is only a half loaf of bread/person/day for a year. Grain prices are rising, the Russians are experiencing a drought and they may not export any wheat this year.
If you think a global food crisis is unlikely, read “Will global warming, overpopulation, floods, droughts, and food riots make this man rich?” by McKenzie Phillips, in Rolling Stone Magazine, about the world-wide land rush to get control of millions of acres of land in poor and troubled countries –
In the past 2 years alone, 50 million acres (the equivalent of all the farmland of France or 10% of farmland in Africa), has changed hands, and it’s not being bought by poor or middle class farmers. It’s sovereign wealth funds from China (19 million acres in Phillippines, Kazakstan, Russia, Cameroon, Australia, Mozambique, Sudan, Canada), India (2 million acres in Ethiopia, Madagascar, Tanzania, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Indonesia), Saudi Aradia (6 million acres in Indonesia, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan), South Korea (6 million acres in Madagascar, Sudan, Mongolia, Russia, Argentina, Phillippines), plus Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.
“He who controls the land controls the food,” as they say, which makes our work of building a viable local food system founded upon independently owned family farms all the more critical.
Dairy is also an important part of a balanced, nutritious diet, and while California needs a multi-million dollar ad campaign to convince folks that their cows are “contented”, the Oklahoma dairy products from our Oklahoma producers in fact come from truly contented animals. NO ad campaign is needed to make this point, you can visit the farms if you’ve a mind to. Cheese and yogurt add a lot of quality for their price to your diet. No “pasteurized processed cheese-like food wrapped in cellophane” here.
Most of us eat out on occasion, some of us “more than on occasion”. We work, and often it is easier to go out for lunch than to bring something from home. The problem with that is finding nutritious food when eating out is a real challenge. Most of the major fast food restaurants incorporate “pink slime” (a beef by-product manufactured by large beef processors using ammonia as one of the ingredients) into their burger meat because that saves them a nickle or so a pound on their costs. See Safety of beef processing method is questioned in the NY Times for details on that if you need some incentive to avoid chain fast food hamburgers. Besides making your own lunch, the coop’s many prepared food producers make delicious foods that are certainly competitive with restaurant food prices, that you can take to work for your lunch. Calzones, burritos, there are many choices. This way you know your food, you know what you are eating, there is no pink slime on the ingredient list, and the food is nutritious. In this day and age, that’s a precious commodity, and we are lucky to have such easy access to these foods.
NB: the term pink slime was coined by a USDA microbiologist, who said (as quoted in the NY Times article referenced above) – “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling.”
What else is on our menu this month?
Nuts – nut butters, pecans, peanuts. These are all high in protein and very beneficial oils, and you can know the source and the production practices.
Herbs and condiments? You can serve ground beef seven days a week, without anyone getting bored, with the creative use of herbs and condiments.
Jams and jellies? Brighten your rolls with a spoonful of jam, add it to your oatmeal, use it to flavor a sauce for pork.
The food coop is also your number one source for natural non-food items. I am a low maintenance guy, but whenever I travel, I take soap with me. Once you get used to the many fine hand-crafted soaps from our artisan producers, you will never want to go back to commercial soaps which always seem to leave a scum on your skin afterwards, and whose commercial fragrances are over-powering and often irritating. The delicately scented products of our artisan producers are superior in every way – and when considering how long they last, they are actually cheaper than store bought soaps. Commercial soap just melts, artisan soaps offer great value.
Cleaning products? Laundry detergent? Garden helpers? Live plants? Jewelry, crafts, gifts? We’ve got ‘em, in abundance. Besides their high quality, as with all of the products from the coop, your money stays here at home and helps build a strong local economy that will carry us through the troubled times ahead.
August is a great month for the Oklahoma Food Cooperative. Don’t forget to order!
Bob's Summer Kitchen:
electric roaster oven, electric skillet, 2 burner propane camp stove, rolling table. I do the prep inside, load things onto the rolling table, and then its off to the front porch for the cooking. My front porch is on the north side of the house, and it is well shade not only by its roof but also by copious vegetation. For more ideas about reducing energy expense and increasing comfort in the summer, see my flyer http://www.energyconservationinfo.org/summer2007.pdf .
And now, for some recipes. . .
Bob’s Hot Pepper Sauce
I don’t know if this is a sauce or a salsa, it doesn’t have tomatoes in it, so I don’t know where it actually fits, but I know we like it. I usually make this with a mixture of habaneros, jalapenos, and cayenne, which makes a “super fiercely hot” sauce, but it could be made with milder peppers. The mix is never quite the same, it depends on what I produce in my garden, so each year the taste is just a bit different.
Peppers (hot or otherwise)
Apple cider vinegar
Take the stems off the peppers and process them in a blender or food processor until they are finely ground. Meanwhile, put vinegar in a pan and add several cloves of peeled and mashed garlic. Heat the vinegar to a boil and simmer it for 4 minutes. Strain to remove the garlic. Wash and sterilize your jars (I usually use half-pint jars), and pack them loosely with the processed peppers, leaving 3/4 inch headspace. Bring the vinegar back to a boil, and pour into the jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe the rims, put the lids on, screw the rings on, and process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. When the processing time is up, use jar lifters to remove the jars, let cool on the counter. Store for 3 weeks before using. When I make this with mostly Scotch bonnet and habanero peppers, 1 teaspoon will make a whole pot of rice firery hot. NB: the water should be boiling in your canner before you put the jars in, have another pot of already rapidly boiling water on hand and after you add your jars, if necessary add more boiling water so it starts up boiling right away. Do not start the time until the water is at a rapid boil.
First, here is a page of information and recipes about pickling from the National Center for Home Food Preservation – http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can6b_pickle.html . Some useful, actually necessary, equipment items include a jar lifter, jar funnel, boiling water canner (if you are doing hot processed pickles that can be stored at room temperature), plus jars, lids, and screw bands.
It takes three or four cucumbers (about 4-5 inches long) to fill a pint jar. For both refrigerator and hot pack pickles, you slice the ends off and then slice them into spears. Or you can slice them cross-wise for pickle slices such as are served on hamburgers.
Boil the jars for ten minutes to sterilize them. Leave them in the hot water until you are ready to fill them, they should be submerged in the water. Remove them from the hot water with jar lifters.
When preparing hot peppers, always wear gloves to protect your hands. DO NOT rub your eyes while wearing those gloves or if you forget and don’t wear them! Wash your hands thoroughly after prepping hot peppers.
About 12, 3-4 inch long pickling cucumbers
3-3/4 cups white or apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh dill weed
1/2 cup sugar or honey
8 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt
1 tablespoon pickling spice
1 1/2 teaspoons dill seed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste or two or three red jalapenos or a habanero
4 pint jars, lids, and rings
Put all the ingredients except the cucumbers, fresh dill weed and the fresh hot peppers into a pan and bring to a boil. It’s best to used a lined pot of some sort as the vinegar can interact with metal to make the solution cloudy. Bring to a simmer, and cook for about 4 minutes. Put fresh dill in the bottom of the jars, and pack them with the cucumber spears and hot peppers. Pour the hot liquid into the jars, filling them to within 1/4 inch of the rim (called headspace). Wipe the rims, put the lids on, screw the rings on. Let sit on the counter until they cool, then refrigerate. It’s best to let them sit in the refrigerator for at least a week. If kept refrigerated, they will keep for several months in the fridge, but they are so tasty they are unlikely to last that long. If you don’t like hotness, don’t include the hot peppers or crushed red pepper.
If you want these to be pickles stored at room temperature, once you fill and seal the jars, put them immediately in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes processing time (pint jars).
Any recipe for pickles can be used for refrigerator pickles. Instead of processing them in boiling water, simply put them in the refrigerator after the jars cool.
Y'all bon appetit, you hear?
bobagandist in chief